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Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday Blogging: A Headline Chuckle, The Mayor And Crime, The Dem Chair Race And Nothing Is Easy In Santa Fe 

Let's close out the work week with a laugh. One of our Senior Alligators sent this newspaper headline and along with it a quick quip:

The headline: Senate Bill Would Allow One Armed Employee At Each N.M. School 

I wonder how many one armed employees the districts will be able to recruit?

Funny. And it might be a good time to go over just what a "Senior Alligator" is. They are our most senior political sources. They have at least 20 consecutive years in La Politica, have given us two or more major, exclusive political stories, are at least 45 years old and preferably have run for elective office and lost. We think you learn a lot more about politics when you have a loss under your belt.

Now on to some end of the week action...

Another Senior Gator, monitoring the '13 ABQ mayor's race, asks us if we heard about property crime going up in the city. The news:

Albuquerque crime stats show a slight increase in property crime since 2011. Citywide, property crime is up by about two percent.  Drilling down the numbers, we see the Southwest side of the city saw an 83% increase in commercial burglaries. The Southeast side saw a 43% increase in commercial burglaries.  Police said they expected the rise because detectives have been making more arrests.

And the analysis from the Senior Gator:

The two percent increase in property crime city isn't that bad politically under normal circumstances. But it's an increase on an issue that was the centerpiece of Berry's 2009 campaign.  He said he would fix it if elected. He hasn't. Making the political ramifications worse, there are parts of the city where property crime has gone through the roof. These areas tend to be more Democratic and/or Hispanic - a voting block that was divided in 2009 between Marty Chavez and Richard Romero.

Between his anemic record on jobs and the economy, his failure on property crime and the mess at APD, Berry could be in real trouble if the Democrats were able to unite behind a candidate.

There are plenty of meat and potatoes issues on the Dems poltical plate as they gear up to take on Berry. But if Republcian Berry is challenged by two Dems and the vote is split, the mayor's race could look like peaches and cream for the incumbent.

CHAIR BATTLE

Roxanne Lara
Democrats aren't united over any one candidate in the mayor's race and the same can be said for the race for their state party chairmanship. ABQ attorney Sam Bregman is facing off against Carlsbad attorney Roxanne Lara. The email from supporters of both continues to flow in. Here's a pro-Lara writer:

Don’t crown Sam Bregman yet, this race is far from over. Roxanne is an attorney in Eddy County and Chaired the Eddy County Commission. She is a well liked and respected state central committee member with a ground game. She’s not a light weight by any stretch. 

Although Sam is well connected in Bernalillo, many in other areas of New Mexico view him as “all hat and no cattle.”.It’s easy to talk a good game, it’s another thing entirely to deliver on your promises.Roxanne Lara is committed. She is not running for Party Chair to bolster her credentials or in preparation for a run at a higher office. She‘s running for the good of the Party as a whole. If the Democratic Party falters so do all the hardworking men and women that the Party represents in New Mexico. She’s just getting out of the gate... stay tuned.

Over 400 Dem state central committee members will meet in late April to choose a new chairman to replace Javier Gonzales who is not seeking another term.

NOTHING IS EASY

It might seem easy for the Guv and the legislature to craft a compromise over the issuance of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.The Guv is indicating that she is finally ready to deal, but Bill Hume, a former editor of the ABQ Journal editorial pages and who once served as a top aide to former Governor Big Bill, says not much comes easy on hot button issues like this one:

I haven't seen any proposed compromise legislation, but it seems to me that the non-ID drivers license for undocumented immigrants that could not be used for identification purposes would be tantamount to carrying state-issued proof that you should be deported as soon as you show it to a law enforcement officer. In ABQ, officers have instructions that when they have any reasonable suspicion that an individual is an illegal alien, they should call immigration authorities.

And, what of the illegal aliens who already have licenses? Will they be called in to have their documents changed? Will we send the police to find them?

Thanks Bill.

We welcome your news, comments and pithy remarks on whatever strikes your fancy.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting from ABQ, I'm Joe Monahan.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)
  
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013
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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spaceport Bill Zooms Through Senate But A Launch Date Seems Far Away, Plus: Big ABQ Bond Issue Vote Coming And More From Readers On Getting Kids Lifted Up 

Launches from the NM Spaceport by early 2014? Don't count on it. Heck, don't even count on the Spaceport operating here, considering the politics that have threatened to cripple the $209 million project.

As for the launches, Virgin Galactic has in the past made launch date predictions only to see them fly past. Now they are talking up an early '14 date to light their rocket and send the first tourists into sub-orbital space. But don't hold your breath:

The company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle, which is undergoing testing in Mojave, Calif., has yet to have a single powered flight. Virgin Galactic officials have said that powered flights are set to start this year using a “starter” engine. That propulsion system is believed to be a smaller version of the full-scale hybrid motor that would power SpaceShipTwo into transonic flight. These tests would be followed by flights with the full hybrid engine capable of reaching suborbital space.
 

Providing those flights go well, SpaceShipTwo would need to go through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) licensing process in order to fly commercially. FAA has never licensed a commercial space plane previously, so it’s not clear how long that process will take.

More fundamentally, there are questions about SpaceShipTwo’s RocketMotorTwo propulsion system. The company had contracted with Sierra Nevada Corporation to produce a hybrid engine powered by nitrous oxide and rubber. However, persistent stories that have circulated in Mojave for years that the design doesn’t work very well.

A Spaceport liability bill is racing through the Legislature after several years of delay, but Virgin Galactic is now squabbling with the state over the fees it pays at the Spaceport. In emails leaked to the press, Virgin threatened to pull out if things don't get straightened out. They then softened their tone. But how many times do we have to say it? "We heard you the first time, Virgin Galactic."

Once the Legislature sends her the needed liability, bill (it passed the Senate Wednesday) it will be up to Governor Martinez and her executives to revive the Spaceport momentum.

A BIG BOND

With construction employment in the ABQ metro at a 20 year low, Mayor Berry's pitch for a big school bond issue city voters will decide Tuesday should get a warm reception:

Mayor Berry, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks and several builders’ associations made a pitch to voters, urging support for two ballot questions worth $368 million in funding for school renovation and construction.

Berry emphasized the economic benefits of the funding.“This is something we can do as citizens of Albuquerque to put people to work, particularly in the construction industry, which has been the one sector of our local economy that has really, really suffered, I think the longest,” Berry said.

Election day is Tuesday, and early voting continues through Friday. In addition to the funding questions, four school board seats are up for grabs.

At a presentation on the bond issue we attended recently, Brad Winter, APS chief operations officer as well as an ABQ city councilor, said a large share of the bonds will go to renovate and improve schools built in the 50's and 60's. He also said property taxes will not go up if the bonds are approved.

ABQ MISSING

A reader writes:

There is only one ABQ area senator on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, even though we are far and away the state's largest city. No one else comes close to our population. Where is the outrage from ABQ about this? This is totally inside baseball, but the reality is that a lack of ABQ representation on the panel makes a real difference in the city's stroke.

Point taken. The panel is controlled by conservative Democrat John Arthur Smith of Deming whose philosophy is a much better match with rural areas of the state than the cities.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez had a chance to initiate a change in the finance committee when the battle for president pro tem raged between Senators Papen and Campos. But Sanchez said before the vote he liked Smith chairing the panel--a slap against Campos. Papen won. Smith stayed.

That was a critical moment. The Democratic Party can't come with a very aggressive economic agenda to put on Martinez's desk because the conservative coalition that elected Papen and kept Smith as chairman would block it.

The Dems did unveil some ideas this week that contrast them with Martinez, but there's a big difference between holding a news conference and actually forcing a Governor to make a tough veto or sign decision.

BRAZO FOR THE BLOG

Reader Robert Palacioz writes:

Joe, A huge "brazo" for your brilliant article for Tuesday the 29th of January. The section about "our children" and how to remedy our generational core issues are the answers we need to act on now not later. Our actions will determine our path to success or failure as a city, county, and as a state! Thanks for loving New Mexico as much the rest of us who are willing to fight for the betterment of New Mexico.

Thanks again for making the correct moral & ethical stance that I am sure will bring you some"heat.".Just remember, I and other Nuevo Mejicanos are counting on you to keep speaking the truth! 

Thanks for that hefty pat on the back, Robert. We will continue to try to blog up to it...And on the subject of our Jan. 29 blog.....

YOU NEED TWO

Reader Steve Arthur in Santa Fe writes of the proposed constitutional amendment for early childhood programs:

Providing additional help to those needing assistance even earlier in a baby’s life isn’t going to solve the problem. We need intervention before those babies are born. No matter what kind of assistance we provide a young, single mother, she is unlikely to be able to get herself and her children out of poverty.

We need to break the cycle of young, single motherhood. Very few children born into two parent (straight or gay) households grow up in poverty because the two parents can support each other...It is often tough to encourage good behavior in kids, because, let’s be honest, kids can sometimes wear down even two parents, when trying to get them to do things they may not want to do.

I know this isn’t a discussion those on the left like to have, but Pat Moynihan’s concerns 50 years ago are just as true today about single motherhood.  And without fixing the single motherhood problem, we will not break the welfare dependency cycle our state is in.

Thanks, Steve.

ABQ reader Mick says he can see the merits of a constitutional amendment that would let the state tap the permanent fund for early childhood programs but believes there are some questions to be answered:

Joe, I'd feel much better about this proposal if I knew how it was going to be implemented. I agree with the need for early childhood ed, but concrete details are lacking from the educators, as usual.

Good point, Mick.

The fiscal hawks on this one deserve some answers and assurances that the money would not be thrown up in the air like so much confetti.

MY BOTTOM LINES

Metro Court Judge Julie Altwies--a Democrat--was elected to be Chief Judge of Metro Court by her colleagues this week. She takes over from longtime Chief Judge Judith Nakamura who the Guv appointed to the district court. Nakamura, a Republican, fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Bob Schwartz. Altwies is a 1984 graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law and was appointed to the court in 2005.....

ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her first speech to the US House recently. It's a 60 second number that can be seen here...

And new US Senator Martin Heinrich now has his web site up and running.....

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)
  
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More Bites Out Of The Driver's License Apple, Papen Says She's No Susana Rubber Stamp, ABQ Mayor's Race Update, Las Cruces Mayor Eyes Higher Office, And: Readers Weigh In On All The Latest La Politica 

With any luck, this will the last legislative session we have to blog about driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. A compromise on the mother of all New Mexico wedge issues is brewing and the politics of how Governor Martinez is getting to that promised land provides plenty of fodder. For example...

Democrat Marci Blaze, who came within a whisker of defeating Republican Paul Pacheco for an ABQ west side state House seat, comments on Rep. Pacheco's sponsorship of the bill to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants even as Governor Martinez signals that she is ready for a compromise on the sticky issue. We blogged recently that maybe Paul hadn't "got the memo" on the Guv's change of heart, but says Marci:

I don't believe Mr. Pacheco neglected to read any memo on the immigration issue.  In fact, I believe he's being played artfully by Governor Martinez and (Guv political adviser Jay) McCleskey. There's no compromise if everyone is on the same page...so who better than Pacheco to throw under the bus on this one?  He's a freshman and a former "peace officer," who actually doesn't have any opinion other than the one scripted for him by the people who funded his entire campaign. 

I must say that the folks who didn't get the memo were the Op-Ed folks at the ABQ Journal. I firmly believe they were encouraged to run Pacheco's piece on the same day they ran an editorial endorsing compromise. That made sure constituents would know that the Governor was seeking a middle ground between both parties on this issue.

Sounds like Marci may be looking at a rematch in '14. As for Pacheco being "thrown under the bus," probably not. He will end up voting for whatever compromise plan the Guv eventually favors.

Pacheco's bill for an outright repeal was tabled by the House Labor Committee Tuesday. That paves the way for compromise legislation that Susana really has her sights aimed at.

NO RUBBER STAMP?

When Las Cruces State Senator Mary Kay Papen formed a coalition with Senate R's and conservative Dems to become Senate president pro tem, veteran politico Mike Santullo argued Papen would be a "rubber stamp" for Republican Governor Martinez. Papen responded to that charge in an interview with Santa Fe's Lorene Mills on "Report from Santa Fe:"

Somebody said I was going to be a rubber stamp for the governor, and nothing could be further from the truth...They don't know me very well. When the governor has things that she is presenting and
bringing forth that I can support, I'll be behind her a hundred percent. And if it's something that I can't support, then I'll try and reach a compromise with her.


Papen was promoted for pro tem by conservative Dem Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith.

THE MAYOR'S RACE

We might be getting an addition to the '13 race for Mayor. Mark Valenzuela, who served as ABQ'S chief financial officer under Mayor Chavez, is giving the race a serious look. A friend of his says the early discussion has centered on the jobs issue and sends this:

As Albuquerque sinks deeper and deeper into recession under the failed Berry Administration, we need a leader who can get people back to work and get Albuquerque moving in the right direction again. Mark, who has raised a billion dollars for his clients over the past three years, is someone we should be looking to for leadership out of this dead economy."

Valenzuela, 43, is in investment banking in ABQ with George K. Baum & Co. He is a native of Dona Ana County and has lived in the city 16 years. He is a past director of governmental affairs for the NM Finance Authority.

So far, former ABQ Public Safety Director and attorney Pete Dinelli is the only officially announced candidate for the October election. GOP Mayor Berry is expected to make a re-elect announcement soon, despite rumors that he won't seek the job again.

Meanwhile, the old boss of Dinelli and Valenzuela has a new gig:

Former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez has been hired by a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. Ibarra Strategy Group announced Tuesday that Chavez recently was hired to assist with "business development and strategic advice."

Chavez left a high-paying job in DC to run for the ABQ congressional seat in 2012. He lost the Dem primary to Michelle Lujan Grisham.

'14 CALLING

And it's not too early for candidates to start eyeing statewide positions up for grabs in 2014. Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima is one of them. He tells me he is looking at running for the Dem nomination for State Treasurer. Incumbent James Lewis is term limited.

ABQ Dem State Senator Tim Keller has said that he will also look at the Treasurer and the Auditor races.

The Dem nomination is worth having. No Republican has been elected to either post since the 1960's.

BEN RAY VS. STEVE

Rep. Lujan
Northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan had a barely disguised zinger for GOP southern  Congressman Steve Pearce when he addressed a joint session of the Legislature Tuesday:

Despite what some have suggested, New Mexicans are not takers. New Mexicans are not lazy or selfish.  New Mexicans are hard-working and generous; proud and tough.  We are giving in spirit, diligent in work ethic, and committed to our families and our communities.
 

We have given back much to our country through the search for scientific knowledge at our national labs to the proud tradition of service in our nation’s armed forces.  When America has called on New Mexico, New Mexicans have heeded the call.

Pearce got the tongues wagging earlier this month when he said many of the state's unemployed would rather be on welfare than work and that Americans overall were losing 'the work "habit."

LAYOFF CONTROVERSY

Keeping it on the jobs front, we blogged this week that our Alligators report that defense contractor SAIC has laid off 200 workers here with much of the layoffs coming recently. We are getting some push back from SAIC on this, but we are sticking with our Gators. While the 200 lost jobs may not have come "recently," it appears they have taken place in the past year. From our Alligator again:

They shut down their Air Park office at Kirtland and Uptown in ABQ Uptown. From the end of 2011 to date there have been at least 200 people in Albuquerque who have been laid off. There are SAIC people left in ABQ but multiple business units closed. 

A spokeswoman for SAIC emails:

...We made the decision in December to restructure our workforce, including a reduction of approximately 700 individuals across the company. These positions are at many locations and across the ranks, but limit the impact on those who are delivering directly to our customers. Of those impacted, 11 were in Albuquerque.  SAIC remains a significant employer in the area, with approximately 350 employees in the state.

We asked SAIC to give their ABQ year over year employment totals and also asked where in NM the 350 SAIC employees still here are located. We' haven't heard back.

And then we get a further report from this SAIC contractor:

I have done subcontract work for them since 1993, and continue to do so today. SAIC still occupies the Air Park building, although not the entire building like they have in the past. SAIC recently did a major restructuring that included selling off their Test & Evaluation division to American Systems Incorporated. The T&E division occupied the Uptown office, so technically SAIC no longer occupies those offices, but American Systems Incorporated does. Like most other contractors in Albuquerque SAIC has lots of employee churn as contracts come and go but they are still in the game.

Covering the deep recession here is challenging. Not all layoffs are reported and covering them is slippery as everyone tries to put the best face on things. But that doesn't change reality. We are in deep trouble on the jobs front.

OUTTA HERE

We've been getting more email like this one from Stephen Dick now of Pueblo, Co.:

I cannot live in the state at this point because of a large lack of opportunity for my field of work (civil engineering).  I went to New Mexico State and received an incredibly great education in that area that ranks with schools that have far larger reputations. If only there was more opportunity to remain in the state and make it a better place. It is a travesty that the state has had such a lack of political leadership in state government (the legislature cannot escape blame here either); but Martinez has been more mediocre than most of the recent governors.

It is time for her to put up or shut up and show that she can make New Mexico a place for opportunity.  Dividing her own party is not a good sign that she has that ability.  The state appears to be dying under her control, and I really fear for its long-term viability even more now than in a long time...If energy has a downturn, it is going to be disastrous for the state.

And it is time for the press to stop phoning it in about her and start to look at the inadequate trail of accomplishments she is compiling.

Thanks Joe. I had to get that off of my chest.


No problem, Stephen. And we're cheaper than a therapist.

ALL OVER IT

A reader writes:

Joe, You are all over the Roundhouse this year. No one comes close to your insight. I am glad to see some economy bills being put forth. One thing missing is ABQ Mayor RJ Berry. In your reports as well as the newspaper's, I have yet to see Berry pounding on tables in Santa Fe to get help for the Albuquerque economy. Is this just me, or is Berry just not around? 

The Mayor did take some heat when the Governor's proposed cap on incentives for the film industry were approved last year. He did not take a stand. Now a proposal is back to repeal the caps for an industry that has had a significant ABQ presence. We haven't seen any quotes from Berry on the matter.

Meanwhile, Martinez has firmly rejected lifting the caps or increasing their amount. The Dems are accusing her of more "my way or the highway politics."  

WATCH THE NUMBERS

Reader Cheryl Haaker says we and others quoting that stat that reveals 70% of the state's births are funded by the Medicaid program need to put it in context:

What percentage of births were paid for before the Great Recession? Was there a spike caused by the economic collapse, which is apparently continuing in New Mexico? What is the historic trend of Medicaid-funded births over the last decade or two? Is there any relation between number of Medicaid births and level of funding for Medicaid?

It's beyond dangerous to take one number which deals with one particular time and run with it, as if it's true for all time. Witness the big freak-out when it turned out that more than 50% of the population paid no federal income tax in the depths of the economic collapse, when unemployment spiked upwards. That was spun into Over 50% of people never pay any taxes! Ever. The culmination of this distortion seemed to be Mr. Romney's slogan about the "47%".

Extremely bad policy can be made from inadequate or cherry-picked, data. When we see a story like the one about Medicaid funded births, the immediate question should be: What about the other years?


Thanks for your great blog, I read it every day.

Reader Stephanie DuBois also has some thoughts on that startling Medicaid stat:

Republicans have continuously pushed for "Abstinence Only" which clearly is not working and they have been against comprehensive sex education. I am not pushing for abortion. But I do think education in this area could make a difference in what we spend to raise a child to majority age. But most of these girls are not content with the state raising one child so they are obliged to have multiples that you and I have to pay for. I think some of our over zealous Republican women lawmakers that want to criminalize abortion would do better to present a bill for sex education. Ok, I can dream can't I?

Of course, you can dream, Stephanie. We find the best time to do it is when the Legislature is  debating driver's licenses....

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)
  
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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Economy Finally Takes Spotlight At Roundhouse: Dems Come With Baby Step Plan On Jobs Crisis, Plus: New Data Shows Jobs Plunge Not Over, And: The Short-Term & Long-Term Outlook; How To Fix Both? 

They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one, so even though they took only baby steps to address the state's job crisis, state House Democrats get credit for becoming the first branch of the New Mexican government Monday to formally acknowledge what all of us out here have known for several years:

The state is in a pernicious retrenchment and good-paying jobs are going the way of the Dodo bird. However, the cloud of denial that has surrounded it is gradually being blown away by a non-stop onslaught of undeniably negative news.

Before we take a look at the Dem jobs plan, let's glance at the latest batch of that undeniable data Read it, but try not to drop your coffee cup:

The ABQ area lost 2,300 jobs in the 12 months that ended Dec. 31, marking 13 consecutive months of year-over-year negative job growth rates, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions said. The four-county area has been in near-constant recession for four years and now has as many jobs as it did in 2004...“At its highest, employment was around 396,800 jobs (in February 2008). After large losses throughout 2008 and 2009, Albuquerque employment has hovered around 370,00 jobs,” the report said.

Four years of constant recession. It's jarring, even for a state that takes to heart its unofficial motto of "Land of Mañana."

But if that didn't give you a jolt equivalent to a double espresso, here's one that should do the trick:

The construction industry (in the ABQ metro) continued its six-year-long slide, losing 1,400 jobs during the year for a 7.1 percent decline. The industry has not added jobs since September 2006. The sector now employs 18,400, the lowest December employment level since 1992.

1992? That's a 20 year low, Gators. And that's the big "D"--Depression.

No one wants to Californicate New Mexico, but neither do we want to outlaw hammers and nails.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS

Which brings us to the House Dems jobs plan. (Even though State Senate Dems jumped in on the plan, it's really not theirs. We doubt the conservative coalition of D's and R's that rules that place on all things economic will allow much of it to go to the Guv.).

The jobs proposal calls for fast-tracking about $100 million in state construction projects contained in a $220 million package in an effort to jump-start construction--the hardest hit sector of the state economy.

Not bad. But Santa Fe could easily double that without hurting our financial standing. A $500 million package with half of that fast-tracked is more like it, but with the fiscal austerity hawks still perched on the trees outside the Roundhouse, we'll be lucky to get much of anything.

The proposal to remove the caps on the cash incentive offered the film industry is a no-brainer. Yes, we should do it--like yesterday. But it will cost us. The cap is currently $50 million a year. The legislation to lift the caps needs to be temporary--say three years--giving the industry enough certainty, but making sure we can have a mid-course correction if lifting the caps results in a cost explosion.

Besides sending some love to Hollywood, don't forget the state advertising budget. Why are we stalled out at a $1.5 million increase? At least double that to bring the loose-spending tourists in here.

The Dems also plan a 17 member "interim jobs council" to spark job ideas from reps from state government, universities, the national labs and business and labor. This may sound trite in light of our dire economic dilemma, but it could be the vehicle for creating some passion and urgency and arresting the defeatist attitude that has taken hold in some quarters during this multi-year downturn.

LEFT OFF THE TABLE

The Dems baby steps program left out the big picture moves and concepts that have been a staple of this blog and its readers for several years.

Our operating premise--we have no demand in this economy in the short term and need stimulus to get the ball rolling. And our long-term prospects can only be improved by an all-out attack on the social conditions crisis that plagues the state.

First, the short term. State employees making under $50,000 ought to get a pay raise of at least 2 percent. They haven't had one one in nearly five years and they will spend that money immediately.

Also, Governor Martinez has let the downsizing go far enough. We have shed thousands of state employees. She needs to find 500 positions to fill--needed positions--and start improving services. Those paychecks will be another stimulus.

The austerity crowd in Santa Fe--nominal Democrat and State Senator John Arthur Smith, Finance Department chief Tom Clifford, Governor Martinez and her "Fifth Floor"--need to get on board. They are falling behind the curve. A state reserve of nearly 15% of our $5.9 billion budget in a time of economic decline is a handicap, not a virtue--especially when 5% reserves are considered prudent.

Heck, take it up to 8% or 9% but not 15%. Get our money working to improve the economy and the lives of our people--now.

THE BIG PICTURE

The big picture is that wheelbarrow full of woes we all know so well and that was amplified over the weekend when it was reported that seven out of ten births in New Mexico are paid for by Medicaid.

We are a welfare state.

A constitutional amendment that would be submitted to voters for their decision is aimed at reversing this decades-long trend but it continues to languish in the Roundhouse. It would finance programs to get to children and their parents soon after birth. It needs a majority vote in the House and Senate to make the '14 ballot. The Governor could not veto it.

Look, if 70% of the babies coming into the world here already need government help to get here waiting to see how they are doing when they are five or six makes no sense.

New Mexico needs a change in values and culture when it comes to bringing up kids. You have to instill it before they get their first lunch pail. The amendment would allow limited funds from the state permanent fund to be used to finance these programs, We currently have $16 billion in our permanent funds and rank nearly 49th or 50th in most social condition standings. If not now, when?

DEBATING BIG PICTURE

Despite the existential threat to the state's outlook, three top business leaders are digging in their heels on that amendment, arguing that it is actually unconstitutional. They argue in an op-ed piece:

The appropriate way to address funding needs for early learning and childhood initiatives is through continued support for the current system by which the state, through its budget process, provides funding based on rigid criteria. Funds to address early childhood education including early reading and other early childhood assistance programs have already been proposed by the Legislature and the governor.

But haven't we been using that "current system" for years? Does anyone think it has worked? A constitutional amendment would let the people decide if they want a "peace corp" type of attack in an effort to reverse the decline that makes living in much of New Mexico akin to a third world experience.

It was Larry Langley of the Business Roundtable, Terri Cole of the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and Beverlee McClure of the Association of Commerce and Industry (Et tu, Beverlee?) who penned the hit piece on the amendment. We'll let former Dem. Lt. Governor Diane Denish supply the rebuttal:

These three, highly-paid folks obviously are completely out of touch with the challenges of raising children in New Mexico, the depth of the impact of poverty on our families and have no willingness to take a rational look at what it is going to take to close the achievement gap and make our kids and state more competitive.    

In fact, their op-ed didn't even really acknowledge the children, only the money. Ironic that this op-ed ran in the same edition where a local businessman was bemoaning the most recent statistic--70% of births are Medicaid funded--a reminder of why our children are 49th in child well-being. Keep the permanent fund permanent and our kids permanently in poverty is their message.    

Also, where are the jobs? Aren't business groups and their executives supposed to concentrate on job creation and economic development? 

Instead of leading with a vision for lifting New Mexico out of the doldrums economically, they are spending their time denying thousands of New Mexico children the opportunity to have a good start and a chance to succeed in school and life.

Yes, the rhetoric is getting harsher and it probably needs to. Otherwise, our generation is just managing the decline of this state--not building it for the future.

SPACEPORT BLUES

Speaking of the future, is that the Spaceport we hear starting a long flush down the toilet? Say it ain't so, Susana:

Virgin Galactic says it will start paying New Mexico rent on the nearly quarter-billion dollar Spaceport the state built for Richard Branson's space tourism business, but the company is doing so under protest and without waiving its right to walk away from the project. 

According to letters obtained by The Associated Press, Virgin Galactic says the state has not finished the work necessary to trigger activation of its $1 million-a-year rent. And it says if the work is not complete by March 31, it may stop paying or give notice to terminate its lease. Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson says the state's obligations have been met. She has requested a meeting with the company.

House Dems also included liability legislation for the Spaceport in its jobs package. But with news like the above, we are wondering if we get a Spaceport even if we get the bill.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Another Chavez for mayor? Her ex-husband Marty Chavez held the job for three terms before being defeated by Richard Berry in 2009 and now Margaret Aragon de Chavez is telling friends she is taking a look at running for the job this year. Meantime, Terry Brunner of USDA in NM says he won't run for mayor. Hey, maybe he can manage Margaret's campaign.

La Politica is nothing if not entertaining....

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Shifting Sands: Nonstop Drumbeat of Gloomy Economy News May Change Political Conversation; Some Dems Start To Find Their Voice, Plus: Driver's License Circus Gets Ready To Leave Town 

One of our readers writes in with a line of thinking we are hearing  more and more:

Given the state of the NM economy, any Representative not 100% focused on economic development should be immediately fired.

Well, we can't fire them, but if what some are calling the state's economic "death spiral" continues, you are going to see the politicians running for cover, instead of doing their whistling past the graveyard act.

The most damaging headline of the year for Governor Martinez and ABQ Mayor Berry is the one that told of how we have become a state people are moving away from. They can bury that in the "C section," but they can't hide it. People feel it. They are talking about it.

We've written of the polling popularity of Martinez and Berry, but we are starting to sense cracks. No administration--no matter how much they put a smile on things--can escape shouldering responsibility for what is happening here. Some Democrats are starting to find their lost voices. Expect more vigorous push back.

Yes, it has been a very long honeymoon. But it is over. The state's precarious and frightening economic future demands a real debate--and it will get one.

THE CIRCUS

But before we get that debate, we're getting another circus act. That would be the blow-up over that abortion bill of Carlsbad GOP State Rep. Cathrynn Brown. She now says the bill would not prevent a woman who was raped from getting an abortion. Brown has done enough backtracking to wear out a new pair of Nike's. She says the bill was drafted incorrectly and that raises this question:

Why didn't new House Minority Leader Don Bratton have controls in place that would have stopped Brown's mishap--and that of 9 cosponsors of the bizarre legislation? Maybe he will now.

And with new House Minority Whip Nate Gentry apparently putting the kabosh on his embryonic plans to seek the ABQ congressional seat in 2014, Bratton might have a second pair of eyes focused on the action at hand.

And what about that Democratic response machine? They were on this one like a wet blanket--as they should. That's the machinery of new Speaker Ken Martinez at work and--as we mentioned--a signal that some Dems are starting to wake up after a two year nap.

(Didn't we say Speaker Martinez would find himself more in the spotlight when Senate Dems failed to shed the chains of their conservative coalition with the R's? We did.)

A funny aside: One of the Roundhouse Alligators says Rep. Brown introduces herself as an attorney and an "editor." Well, Brown found out that editing can be just as slippery as being your own lawyer.

THAT OTHER CIRCUS

You've already heard about that other circus--the one featuring driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and which is about to end its two year run. The Guv is throwing in the towel. And here's another reason why:

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that grants hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants the right to drive. The new law makes Illinois the fourth state to allow driver’s licenses or permits for undocumented immigrants and comes ahead of President Obama’s  expected announcement on a plan for comprehensive immigration reform expected on Tuesday.

Quinn and the bipartisan supporters of the legislation say the measure will improve traffic safety in the state. “This new law will ensure every motorist is properly licensed to drive. It’s the right thing to do,” a spokesperson for the Governor said in a statement.

Susana senses she needs a new act. How about "The Great Compromiser?" That might please the crowds. But she can't do it with a sour look on her face. She has to enjoy it, embrace it and mean it. And that's a challenge for our heels-in-cement prosecutor Governor.

FALLING IN LINE

And we can't let this one get away. We've been among those arguing for over two years for a compromise on the driver's license issue, but each time the ABQ Journal stiff-armed the idea, calling compromise no solution and warning of dire public safety consequences. Of course, it was mostly balderdash. But guess what? Now that Susana has uttered the dreaded "C" word, the Journal has fallen in line and is aping her new outlook. Their Sunday editorial:

"A straight repeal would be cleaner...but...providing illegal immigrants with a separate mechanism to drive legally may be the best option the Legislature can deliver...

Well, welcome to our world, ink-stained ones. We've been waiting for you. And it didn't hurt too much, did it?

The editorial writers should keep the book on compromise on the desktop. If they're determined to stay on the same page as Susana, they're going to need it.

FORGOTTEN MEMO?

We guess freshman ABQ GOP State Rep. Paul Pacheco didn't get the memo on the driver's license repeal. In that same edition of the Journal he is still arguing for his bill that would repeal the licenses, not reform them. Hey, Susana and Jay. Give Paul a call and tell him about the new world order.

THE TRAIN WRECK

Now on to the econ beat and the drumbeat of news that's like watching a slow motion train wreck:

The median asking price for a business in the Duke City area is $237,00. One year ago, at the end of Q4 2011, the median asking price was $293,000. In Q4 2012, listed businesses in the Albuquerque area had median revenue of $407,630, down $23,329 from a year ago.

And the last we say the median price for a home in ABQ was around $166,000, In May of 2008, it was $205,000. That.s a 20 percent haircut. Any bets on when it goes back to $205K? Maybe when they get around 20,500 new jobs in here.

A MESA WITHOUT SOULS

Those jobs are not likely to come from the construction industry--at least not any time soon. The collapse of the mega-development Mesa del Sol guarantees that. The so-called "Crown Jewel" of home development here has collapsed. Owners Forest City are looking to bail out but no one is interested in buying. The project was a fave of former Governor Big Bill and the biz community. Its momentum was preserved with plenty of campaign contributions.

They were saying that 50,000 would someday live there. But Mesa del Sol remains a comfortable stomping ground for jack rabbits and road runners.

One of our critters--a Senior Alligator with insider info--says not all politicos supported the project. He says that and the real estate crash were behind the collapse:

Mesa del Sol's comment that the project has other partners is disingenuous at best. The other partners are the City of Albuquerque, the State of New Mexico, the State Land Office and the University of New Mexico. None of these entities are going to pick up and develop the property. They all had a stake in the successful build-out of the property and Governor Martinez let them dangle in the wind because of her personal enmity for Gov. Richardson. 

The signs of the wheels coming off this project were there in 2008-09  when top flight support staff and contractors were let go. Al Ratner, the owner of Forest City had a passion for Albuquerque and Mesa del Sol but once he stepped aside the company's commitment withered.  Mesa del Sol executive Mike Daly was pretty much an absentee landlord as more and more the project was managed out of Denver.

WHAT? US WORRY?

Meanwhile at sleepy ABQ City Hall, the Rip Van Winkle act goes on, even as the Mesa del Sol collapse reveals the extent of the ravaging recession here:

City of Albuquerque Economic Development Director John Garcia says the sale of the land will not compromise the development."The development stays intact, the project stays intact," he said.  "The agreements are in place, and if they chose to sell their assets, then they sell them with the contracts in place," says Garcia The city says it's not worried about the development saying Forest City has been a good partner to this point, and they don't see that changing now.

"Not worried?" Well, one supposes it's difficult to worry about something that isn't going to exist. Just like so many other businesses and jobs around here.

OUTTA HERE

We blogged last week of layoffs at the defense company SAIC We didn't have the numbers at the time. Now we are told by a source:

Over 200 people over the last year have been laid off, most of them in the last month

Defense and energy make up of many of the high-paying jobs in this town. But you already knew that.

(We're still working this. SAIC is saying only 11 people in ABQ lost their jobs since they announced 700 national layoffs in December. We've asked them what the work force total here is now compared to a year ago and await an answer. They also say 350 people still work for SAIC in New Mexico).

THAT'S NOT LUCKY

Amidst all of this, state House Dems say they will unveil a jobs program today. But they might want to give powerful State Rep. Lucky Varela a call before they do it.

Lucky says he wants to cut a deal by having the dreaded state gross receipts tax cover more transactions in exchange for giving the Guv her corporate income tax cut. Come on Santa Fe. One's a job killer--the gross receipts tax. And one's a job pretender--the corporate income tax cut.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Reader and retired newsman and politico Rodger Beimer has the closer today. He says of the proposal to have a statewide referendum on legalizing small amounts of marijuana:

The Legislature should meet in "joint session" to discuss the "reeferendum!"

Yeah, now we're blogging...

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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